Archive for the ‘Guest Commentary’ Category

Realistic View

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

(Editor’s Note:  The commentary below came as an email from Bob Harris.  I thought it was powerful and should be shared.  Mr. Harris grew up in Charleston where his father was editor of The Charleston Gazette and later Chief of Staff to Senator Jennings Randolph.  Bob Harris is based in Washington with extensive knowledge of government and politics.  He is principal in the firm of Hutter & Harris.)

Thanks for your thoughtful comments in your Final Look.

It is a very bleak look.  We are one day away from an election, but does anyone really know what this election is about.  Most elections are about the future, this election cannot be — I hope!!  If that is the case, the future is not bright at all!!

My mentors in politics and government were my father and Senator Randolph.  They taught me when it was time to be partisan and when it was time to roll up your sleeves and go to work.  I so often recall — fondly — the Senator taking me aside when I was a page and giving my first real lesson in bi-partisanship.  I recall him taking me to a desk off the center aisle of the Senate Chamber and telling me that that aisle divided political parties, not people — people crossed that line every day when it was necessary for the betterment of the country and their states.

Today, bi-partisanship is demonstrated only by Members sitting together at a State of Union address.  In between, Senators and House Members line up to campaign against their colleagues, to cut ads in another Members state, to host fundraisers for the opponent of another Member and more!!  Then, they come back to Washington and talk about working together, which cannot because they cannot trust each other…

Trust has gone…

And, so has the American people’s trust in their government.

Why, you ask?  Because it is pounded into our heads each day by the rancor of on-line reports (many, many, many unsubstantiated or ever false), by misleading press reports (both liberal and conservative) and by name-calling all over the internet, radio and television.

Today, we have the networks (Fox on one side, MSNBC on the other and all those somewhere in between) setting up the narrative of the election.  But, more importantly, the day-to-day inner workings of the government.  We see news on Fox we do not see on another network, we see news on MSNBC we see on no other network.  Worst of all, it comes from those reports from the rotunda of the Cannon or Russell Buildings as Members throw themselves in front of the all day parade of cable tv shows to complain about someone else, never talking about what is good about American or how we can make America a better place.  America is falling apart and it is always someone else’s fault.

I was in West Virginia this past weekend for the football game, the ads are everywhere.  When I left, I thought Barack Obama was the President of a country other than the one in which I live.  He is responsible for everything, even for stripping our rights!!

I am now back at my desk, awaiting the election tomorrow.  And, after that I will be here, watching the lamest of Lame Ducks.  Shortly after the New Year a new Congress will begin; the House and Senate will organize and we will be begin the 2016 election cycle.

Members will call each other names, accuse members of the “other party” of being anything but American, and block legislation sponsored by anyone from that other party.  They will do all that in the span of a 3 day work week and in between we will watch Members line-up to sponsor fundraisers and campaign against the colleagues!!



Sunday, September 7th, 2014

(Editor’s Note:  With campaign ads beginning to flow there is none more famous than “Daisy.”  Mr. Babb’s piece is offered for those new to campaigns and political advertising.  For those inclined to watch a link is provided below.)

By Drew Babb

Drew Babb teaches political advertising at American University and is president of the firm Drew Babb & Associates.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 7, 1964, a political ad called “Daisy” aired on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson. The commercial opened with a little girl in a meadow, then a horrific nuclear blast filled the screen. We’ve been feeling the fallout ever since.

It was only a minute long. The paid ad ran on national television only once, and only on one network, NBC. But that’s all it took.

The message

Here’s what you would have heard that early fall evening during “Monday Night at the Movies”:

LITTLE GIRL (plucking daisy petals): One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine . . .

“MISSION CONTROL”: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero . . .

SOUND EFFECTS: Huge atomic bomb blast.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other. Or we must die.

ANNOUNCER: Vote for President Johnson on Nov. 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

The takeaway? Johnson’s Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, was a crazed, trigger-happy cowboy. If his finger were ever on the nuclear button, the world would blow up. We’d all die.

The fallout

You can love “Daisy” for its power or hate it for its excess — I both love it and hate it — but it changed political advertising forever. Here’s how:

●It gave politicians a license to kill. Earlier political commercials were overwhelmingly upbeat. In 1960, Frank Sinatra sang a rewrite of “High Hopes” for John F. Kennedy, with this jolly lyric: “Everyone is voting for Jack, ’cause he’s got what all the rest lack.”

But “Daisy” was a full-throated, gloves-off, take-no-prisoners negative message. Arguably, and for better or worse, it’s the Mother of All Attack Ads.

To execute the spot, the creative types didn’t just run still photos with a crawl of type. They used every weapon in their arsenal. They grabbed for viewers’ hearts with an adorable little girl (commercial actress Monique Corzilius). They tapped into viewers’ greatest nightmare with footage of a huge mushroom-shaped cloud. (Remember, this was less than two years after the Cuban missile crisis.) They reinforced the visuals with intrusive sound effects (provided by the genius sound engineer Tony Schwartz). They had Johnson read a snippet of spiritual poetry (by W.H. Auden). And they hired a voice-of-God baritone (sports announcer Chris Schenkel) to wrap things up.

●By all means, trash the tropes. Nowhere in “Daisy” does an image appear of either candidate. Barry Goldwater is not mentioned. There are no American flags, bunting, stirring music or other cliches of the genre. Johnson’s ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, deployed every bit of the imagery and verbal power typically used with nonpolitical clients such as Volkswagen, Avis Car Rental and Levy’s Rye Bread. DDB wasn’t going to pussyfoot around for the LBJ brand just because this was politics. The agency had its share of gentlemen and ladies, but when it came to gaining market share for its clients, they were New York street brawlers.

●Overreacting can boomerang. Before there was something called “earned media,” “Daisy” did just that. The Republican campaign erupted in outrage. The Johnson campaign, which anticipated the heat, quietly and quickly pulled the ad, and it never ran again. But the networks (only three of ’em, remember?) duly registered the GOP ire and — to show people what all the fuss was about — ran “Daisy” ad nauseam. Result: The one-time- only spot was shown over and over. And under the aegis of newscasts, it undoubtedly picked up credibility along the way.

The credits

So who crafted and produced this message? Who’s responsible for it?

Tony Schwartz is often given sole credit. But commercials are like little movies. They’re collaborative. The collaborators include Bill Bernbach, DDB’s creative director; Sid Myers and Stanley Lee, art director and copywriter, respectively; and producer Aaron Ehrlich. On the account management side, Jim Graham was the point person.

But a creative agency always needs a creative client, so you have to give a nod to the White House, too. Steve Smith was the “matchmaker” who had recommended the upstart agency to his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy. Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti and Richard Goodwin seem to have been on the receiving end of the pitch. Lyndon Johnson, ultimately, approved the ad.

The reverberations

We’re on the cusp of another expensive, nasty election. Gird up your loins, everyone.

Many of 2014’s candidates and their brilliant operatives weren’t alive when “Daisy” aired. But what they do and what they’ll produce will be influenced by those 60 seconds that ran 50 years ago.

Happy birthday, “Daisy.”

Link for TV ad.


Is It Good News?

Friday, December 28th, 2012

[Editor’s Note:  Guest commentary is welcome on PHILLIPSBILLBOARD.  Bob Harris grew up in Charleston, WV and sent the piece below following our post about the EPA Administrator’s planned departure.  Harris is based in Washington with extensive Capitol Hill experience.  He is a principal in the firm of Nutter & Harris.]

Is it good news?  Yes and no.  While Administrator Jackson has been an aggressive leader with an aggressive environmental agenda, the Agency still must implement the laws as written and that means that the Courts will enforce the laws no matter who is the Administrator.

Much of the action taken by EPA during Ms. Jackson tenure was taken in response to decisions and orders from the courts.  Congress has shirked responsibility for decades now in reviewing and rewriting the basic environmental statues under which EPA operates — Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA or Superfund) and Safe Drinking Water Act.  By and large, our national environment laws were written two or three decades ago, reflecting an economy where America competed mostly at home, not abroad, and when politics was less partisan.

The politics of pollution was more regional in nature than partisan.  Now, like all politics, the environment is seen more through the prism of partisanship and struggles between Democrats and Republicans.

No matter who is President the laws must and will be implemented.  Suits will be filed in courts throughout the country — and EPA will be forced to implement whatever the court decides.  And, the courts often will defer to EPA’s scientific knowledge and regulatory authority.

When administrations change party, what does change is the negotiation between litigant parties and the EPA.  Many “negotiated settlements” are negotiated under one administration with the environmental community or under another with the regulated community.

EPA is the “environmental protection agency,” it purpose for being — established under a Republican President and his Administration — is to protect the environment.  It is not charged with determining cost effective regulation, the least expensive path forward; it is charged with implementing the US environmental statutes.

I was once told by a good friend on the Senate Environment Committee — under John Chafee’s leadership — “Bob, this is the environment committee.”  Those of us who represent business and industry and the regulated communities need to remember that very thought.  We are dealing with people whose job is to do something different than what believe to be the best interests of our side.

If we approach the environment under those terms, respecting the legitimate role of the other side, we will have better results.  Much like everything else today, we want our side to win everything and the other side to get nothing.

I am old enough to remember Charleston (and Wheeling and Pittsburgh and more) when the Kanawha River was merely a place to dump our wastes.  The multitude of chemical plants in the greater Charleston area simply dumped whatever the waste was, in whatever color it flowed, into the river.  And, the river’s role was simply to dilute and carry products up and down the river.  Weren’t all of our rivers much the same?

The Clean Water Act set up a process to clean up our rivers and streams — to make our rivers “fishable and swimmable.”  That has been accomplished — and America is a better place today because of that.

The heavy air pollution that stagnated the Kanawha Valley when I was a child is gone today — except under the most extreme circumstances.  The Ohio River Valley and others throughout the state have a skyline of tall stacks that disperse pollutants above the valley walls — unfortunately carrying whatever pollutant being released to another state and another region.

What can be said about the Clean Water Act can be said about all of our environmental statutes.  We are better off today than we were 15, 20 or 40 years ago.  This year we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act; in 2010 we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act.  And, even as I work to help my clients shape environmental responses and advocate policy responses under these two and other statutes, I enthusiastically celebrate everything we have accomplished.

Are there still problems — sure!!  Are there better and most cost effective ways to meet these challenges — sure!!  We must roll up our sleeves and command our leaders to do what Jennings Randolph did all those years he chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee — work with others from other regions, with other divergent interests to find a middle ground and put together programs that work.

West Virginia is well positioned to play a leading role in a new debate on the environment and energy policies…especially as they come together in today’s modern economy.  It is time to have it!!

Senator Rockefeller chairs an important Senate Committee (the Commerce Committee) and is a senior member of the Finance Committee, which jurisdiction over tax policies); Senator Manchin sits on the powerful Energy & Natural Resources Committee and he will have an important voice in setting energy policies for the next 4 years of the Obama Administration.  On the House, the States senior leader, Nick Rahall is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which has jurisdiction over all US waters, the Clean Water Act and transportation policies.  Shelly Capito is now a Senate candidate, but she still serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where she has moved up the ladder in seniority.  David McKinley brings business experience and engineering expertise to the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act, RCRA and Superfund and the Department of Energy and energy policy.